We’ve all been there – eagerly anticipating a delicious meal only to be met with disappointment. At this moment, do we keep eating? Is it “worth it?” For dancers, food disappointment is unfortunately a common occurrence. In this post, we’ll explore practical tips on how to cope with a disappointing food or meal.
What is food disappointment?
It’s straightforward: you eat something that didn’t go as planned. Whether it’s a homemade dish that didn’t turn out as expected or a restaurant experience that fell short, dealing with culinary letdowns is a part of our food journey.
For dancers who struggle with disordered eating, this disappointment amplifies. Deprivation— such as what happens when we diet or experience food insecurity, greatly increases the reward response from food. In these instances, every meal or snack becomes treasured. The pressure to make each eating experience “perfect” and “acceptable” to fit the standard you’ve (or dancer diet culture) set forth makes any interference hit harder.
Can dancers avoid feeling disappointed after eating?
Similar to much of the work we do when building a more supportive body image, it is a daunting task to completely avoid feelings of disappointment after eating. Simply put: complete avoidance is out of reach for most (if not all) dancers.
Food disappointment is a normal experience and one that will happen as you move through life. Striving to completely avoid instances of disappointment can worsen picky eating and drive fears around trying new foods.
How can you begin to approach new foods and meals with an open mind? There are strategies to both lessen the occurrences of food disappointment and navigate the experience more constructively.
It starts with your food relationship
As mentioned earlier, you’re more likely to feel disappointed after eating if your baseline meal plan is overly regimented, restricted, and/or obsessive. “Clean” eating standards are a common culprit. The tendency to fixate on “whole” foods, ingredients, and food quality can veer dancers from a more inclusive approach, causing them to avoid certain foods deemed less “clean,” “unhealthy,” or “processed”—options that are both practical and accessible to dancers with busy schedules.
I often see well-meaning dancers and coaches promoting food decisions to be based solely on a food’s degree of nutrient density (learn more here). This strategy not only satiates desires to strive for unsustainable “clean” eating standards, but it also leads to dancers relying heavily on food rules rather than on food preferences. While there is nothing wrong with utilizing nutrient density for mealtime decisions, it should only be used in the context of a more inclusive approach: The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Algorithm offers a practical guide on how you’re moving through mealtime decisions as a dancer.
How can dancers handle food disappointment?
First and at the moment, make space for its potential to happen. If you’re trying a new food and that option didn’t deliver as expected, be proud that you gave it try! Next, you’ll want to evaluate whether or not you need to keep eating. In most (but not all) instances, the answer is yes— you need to nourish your body with what is accessible. Under-eating or skipping the meal entirely can set you up for challenges later in the day/evening.
Depending on the context of the meal, you may or may not have access to different foods. If you’re at an event that is buffet-style, it’s easier to make swaps. If you’re at a restaurant, swaps are unlikely. In this moment, pause and reflect. What didn’t meet your expectations? Was it the flavors of the dish or how the ingredients were paired? Perhaps your disappointment has less to do with the food and more to do with external factors:
- Did you eat on the go?
- Was your environment especially loud?
- Perhaps you ate too quickly?
Now consider your expectations. Are they realistic? I often say that with quick snacks and meals, it’s impractical to expect a mindful and even satisfying experience. This is common when dancers are traveling, competing, and touring. Not every dish will be a culinary masterpiece, and that’s okay.
Attempting to reframe your thoughts can also help. Can you construct any neutral or positive thoughts about the food or meal? Sometimes, meals and snacks serve a more functional purpose: to provide our bodies with the baseline nourishment needed to live (and dance). The mere ability to eat food for this purpose is impressive enough. Adjusting your mindset can significantly impact how you perceive and enjoy your meals— preventing the entire experience from being overshadowed by disappointment.
Use food disappointment towards The Healthy Dancer® Body of Evidence
Now that you’ve moved through the moment, it’s time to turn the disappointment into an opportunity for exploration. Consider the factors that led to the disappointment and use them as learning opportunities. If it’s a homemade meal, think about adjustments you could make for next time. If it’s a restaurant experience, take note of the aspects that were lacking and use this knowledge when choosing dining options in the future. Cook a different dish at home, try a new restaurant, or experiment with ingredients you haven’t used before. This proactive approach can help you move past the disappointment and discover new culinary experiences.
Dealing with disappointing meals is a universal experience, but how we handle it can make all the difference. Using the disappointment to reflect upon your relationship with food is a great starting point. While being open-minded to new experiences is critical, it’s completely fine to construct meals that align with your preferences (so long those are choices and not rules) when it’s accessible. Whether it’s a comforting home-cooked dish or a special treat from your favorite bakery, curate an experience that brings joy and satisfaction.
You’ll need to build trust in your ability to eat meals and snacks multiple times a day, every day. This helps to lessen the pressure of making every eating time a mouth-watering experience. If more support is needed or if feelings of food disappointment recur, working alongside a licensed dietitian will help.